It’s an exciting time as the NHL gets ready to kick off Tuesday night. Washington fans will tune into TV’s as their Capitals open on the road in the United Center at 8pm ET on NBC Sports Network. The good news is the Caps will be quite used to their surroundings, having just completed a final exhibition against the Hawks on Saturday.
It’s interesting to consider the mood of Capitals fans. It’s plausible to think that many of them don’t necessarily expect a Stanley Cup like they once did. Some Caps fans would probably be happy with a conference finals appearance that ended tight. What this Capitals team has lacked is progression from year to year. They have won in different ways, however. It’s a resilient bunch. The truth is, what were once young studs (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green) are now players in their prime getting paid big bucks. The team will be competitve for a long time but, the championship window starts to look bleak if the team can’t get out of the second round again. Nevertheless, the Capitals do have enough talent to make a deep playoff run and the journey starts Tuesday night in Chicago.
The first game of the year always has some extra jump and some mistakes. With dynamic scorers and skaters prevalent in both lineups, capitilizing on odd man rushes and power plays will be the difference in the game. For the Capitals, controlling the puck and moving it quickly will be the strategy. The Blackhawks have a fierce forecheck and like to hem the defensemen into dangerous passing situations. Mike Green will be key distributor into the rush and will have the opportunity to show he is an elite D-Man early in the season.
On Offense, the Caps will look to their stars, of course, but will also need a more two-way player like Martin Erat or Joel Ward to pitch in against the defending champs. The number one power play in the league last year should be lethal once again but, there could be a small adjustment period with the loss of Mike Ribiero. Expect Nicklas Backstom to take on the half wall duties and Marcus Johannson or another lefty to man behind the net. Backstom has the sweet sauce on his passes and will need him to serve up some juicy one-timers for Ovechkin and Green.
Overall, the Caps plan will be to play a fast-paced North and South game. They like to grind the walls and run cycles with their bottom lines while Ovechkin’s line stays in triangles for quick passing plays and shots. The Capitals are strong off the rush. Getting a lead really helps this team’s system. The few times they had one last year, the Caps were strong. Braden Holtby should be one year wiser and Michal Neuvirth is a solid backup.
Expect a great game to open the season. The Capitals have alot of firepower and the team is focused on having a better start than it did last year. Adam Oates is a good coach and continuity goes a long way in hockey. For Washington fans, you couldn’t ask for a better measuring stick to start the year.